Obama Netanyahu 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
By a margin of one, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to pass his
proposal for a 90-day settlement freeze when he brings the matter before the
15-member security cabinet.
US President Barack Obama on Sunday said the
proposed freeze was a “very constructive step” that he hoped would lead to
serious peace negotiations soon.
Coalition likely to survive vote on incentive package
US asks Israel for 90-day settlement building
Should the government accept the US freeze proposal?
Editor's Notes: Now we’re all up a tree
What the US is proposing, as presented to the cabinet
“I think it’s a signal that he
[Netanyahu] is serious,” Obama said.
But before those talks with the
Palestinian Authority begin, Netanyahu must defeat stiff resistance by
right-wing opponents who believe they can overcome his narrow margin in the
According to a count done by The Jerusalem Post, right
now, seven security cabinet members support the measures, and six oppose it. It
would not apply to east Jerusalem.
The critical element that would appear
to allow the proposal’s passage is the expectation that the two Shas ministers
in the security cabinet will abstain from the vote.
Interior Minister Eli
Yishai, who heads Shas, said his party would support defacto on the assumption that east Jerusalem
construction could continue as normal during the 90-day period and that Obama would
promise in writing that at the end of the freeze, settlement building would
resume throughout the West Bank.
Right-wing Likud MKs threatened on
Sunday to fight Netanyahu in the Knesset and said they would consider
parliamentary sanctions against their own party, should Netanyahu succeed in
pushing the freeze through the security cabinet.
The most painful blow
that these coalition backbenchers could deal to the government would be to mount
opposition to the upcoming votes on the state budget and its accompanying
economic arrangements bill.
To plot this strategy, the Likud MKs,
including coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, planned to meet in the Knesset on
Monday. Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein and MKs Danny Danon, Yariv
Levin and Tzipi Hotovely are all expected to attend.
Separately, MK Uri
Orbach, who heads the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset faction, threatened to act within
his party to force it to leave the coalition, a move that would reduce the
coalition from 74 to 71 mandates.
Even without Habayit Hayehudi,
Netanyahu would retain a clear majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Sunday, the prime minister presented the full cabinet with the plan to halt new
settlement construction for 90 days in exchange for US security and
The draft of the proposal was hammered out on
Thursday during a seven-hour meeting in New York between Netanyahu, US Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton and members of their staff.
Netanyahu told the
cabinet that the proposal was an preliminary one and that a final text was still
It’s expected that US and Israeli officials will hold
face-to-face meetings in the coming days to hammer out the details. Only then
will Netanyahu bring the matter to the security cabinet.
In a bold gamble
that it can push both Israelis and Palestinians to resolve the issue of borders
in 90 days, Washington has pledged not to pressure Israel to continue its
settlement freeze after that period of time.
If imposed, the freeze would
reinstate the moratorium on new settlement construction and would be retroactive
to September 26; as such it would halt all building that has begun since
Construction that was started before November 26, 2009, can
continue, as it did during the earlier 10-month moratorium.
Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said, “I insist that any proposal meet the
State of Israel’s security needs, both in the immediate term and vis-à-vis the
threats we will face in the coming decade.”
He added that during his
talks with Clinton and earlier with Vice President Joe Biden last week, as well
as with other US politicians and officials, “I raised – first and foremost – the
need to stop the Iranian nuclear project.
This is the greatest threat to
both world peace and the security of the State of Israel.”
ministers were unswayed by his talk of Iran.
Strategic Affairs Minister
Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) called the American proposal a “honey trap that will
plunge us into another crisis with the Americans in the future, in three months
or maybe even before then.”
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom (Likud) warned
that approving the proposal would be a “strategic” mistake because the
expectation is that during the 90-day freeze, the two sides would agree on a
permanent border that could involve a withdrawal from most of Judea and
On Sunday night, Danon held an emergency meeting with regional
and local council heads from Judea and Samaria, and with dozens of Likud
activists to plot their strategy to sabotage the proposed freeze.
idea of Freeze II is another bad film from the Obama production company,” Danon
said at the meetings. “It is strange that the election results in the United
States didn’t light a giant warning light for Obama that the way to justify his
Nobel Prize is not through pressuring Israel.”
Likud backbenchers were
not the only members of the ruling party to slam the moratorium.
not a question of three months, but a process that will ultimately bring about
the determination of final borders,” warned Deputy Minister for Negev and
Galilee Development Ayoub Kara (Likud). “The American ‘commitment’ to a veto [of
a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood] in the UN Security Council,
which is restricted to a year, is a serious strategic error. This is the time
frame dedicated to a final agreement, and if, God forbid, we don’t meet the
conditions, the veto that was taken for granted in the past will turn into
Kara dismissed the American offers of increased
military and budgetary aid as “temptations that do not make the situation any
“As long as the conversations with [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas
aren’t being held in Gaza, there is no reason to continue the negotiations, and
as long as Abbas isn’t able to step on Gazan soil because the rulers there don’t
yield to temptations and stick to the benefits offered by 72 virgins, we can’t
be pulled along after baseless promises,” Kara said.
Elkin and MK Arye
Eldad (National Union) sent a letter on Sunday to the right-wing members of the
government calling to oppose the US freeze proposal. The pair called on MKs to
“stand with them in this testing time, to oppose every additional freeze and to
demand a renewal of building, as the cabinet decided.”
continued, “No security package can be as valuable as the security provided by
the hills and the Jordan Valley.”
But opposition MKs in Kadima warned
that refusing to accede to the American request for another moratorium could
have bad consequences.
“Ideological stubbornness and political
stubbornness will bring about a binational state,” warned MK Otniel Schneller
(Kadima). “We must first and foremost maintain our national interests, of which
settlement is just one, and to accept the American proposition that will ensure
the continuation of the peace process alongside building in the settlement
“We in Kadima,” added Schneller, “honestly intend to support the
diplomatic process on the basis of two national states, to be partners in
maintaining the national interests of Israel, and to join a unity government on
a basis of ideology and national responsibility.”
AP and Jerusalem Post
staff contributed to this report.